Octopus Aquaculture – A Growing Success

Com­mer­cial farm­ing of octo­pus is tak­ing a stride for­ward with the devel­op­ment of a model octo­pus farm at the Depart­ment of Fish­eries’ Research Division.

The Depart­ment of Fish­eries has been work­ing closely with Fre­man­tle Octo­pus Pty Ltd, to rear octo­pus as a poten­tially lucra­tive limb of WA aqua­cul­ture. Prin­ci­pal Aqua­cul­ture Sci­en­tist, Dr Sagiv Kolkovski, is run­ning a two-pronged research pro­gram into the com­mer­cial via­bil­ity of exploit­ing Octo­pus tet­ri­cus through aqua­cul­ture.

O. tet­ri­cus is prized for its eat­ing qual­i­ties  and remark­able rapid growth rate, reach­ing up to three kilo­grams in its one year life cycle. In WA, nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally, octo­pus is an increas­ingly pop­u­lar seafood source. This demand, com­bined with its rapid growth rate, makes O. tet­ri­cus an ideal can­di­date for aquaculture.

The focus of the research team is to look at ways of ‘ranch­ing’ octo­pus (rear­ing the ani­mals in cap­tiv­ity) to a suit­able size for con­sump­tion, with the projects more long term and elu­sive goal being; to breed, hatch and rear O. tet­ri­cus in suf­fi­cient num­bers and to a suf­fi­cient size, to make it a com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful aqua­cul­ture oper­a­tion. By work­ing on the ranch­ing side of the project now, it is an effec­tive way of fast track­ing full-scale aqua­cul­ture pro­duc­tion if Dr Kolkovski and his team can ‘crack the code’ behind suc­cess­fully rear­ing octo­pus lar­vae on a poten­tially com­mer­cial scale. This is some­thing that has never been done in the world before and will require a ground­break­ing, inno­v­a­tive approach to the bio­log­i­cal puz­zle if it is to be successful.

Cur­rently, Dr Kolkovski and his team are exper­i­ment­ing with the occy occu­pants of a 15-tank farm at the Department’s West­ern Aus­tralia Fish­eries and Marine Research Laboratories.

The work is being car­ried out to imi­tate com­mer­cial real­ity as closely as pos­si­ble,” said Dr Kolkovski. “ We are com­par­ing the growth rates with dif­fer­ent feed sources and tank con­di­tions, and the cost of food, to find out if it is viable. The aim is to grow octo­pus to a suit­able size for sale on the market.”

But octo­pus lar­vae are noto­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to rear in cap­tiv­ity, which is why it has never been achieved on a com­mer­cial scale any­where in the world. Part of the prob­lem lies in the larvae’s sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to bac­te­ria in hatch­ery con­di­tions. If Dr Kolkovski and his team could unlock the envi­ron­men­tal and nutri­tional code required to get the occy past its lar­val stage, it could open up a whole new aqua­cul­ture indus­try with poten­tial global appeal.

In the first cou­ple of months we hatched out two sets of lar­vae,” he said. “With the first ‘run’ they only lasted a week, but after mak­ing a few adjust­ments we man­aged to keep some of them going for 30 days. So we already know a lot more than we did when we first started, but if we are going to be able to do it on a com­mer­cial scale, it’s going to take a lot more time. It’s a very chal­leng­ing thing we are try­ing to do here.” The next avenue is to exper­i­ment with the arti­fi­cial food to find out the larvae’s spe­cific nutri­tional require­ments — a crit­i­cal part of the equa­tion that nobody really knows yet.

What­ever the out­come of this next phase of inves­ti­ga­tion, one thing is for sure — aqua­cul­ture of octo­pus in WA on a com­mer­cial scale is a lot closer to becom­ing a real­ity on account of Dr Kolkovski and his team’s efforts.

Next time you visit the NMDC, take a trip down the Sci­en­tific Trail and see if you can spot our occy. Look care­fully they might be hiding!

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